As I prepare to head to the Clicker Expo in Norfolk VA this weekend for some the best training education on the planet, I think about the term that has always sort of bothered me-“CLICKER TRAINING”. So what does it really mean?
I guess what has always bothered me about the term “clicker training” is the over simplification of it. Appreciating the science behind it and the decades of evolution that have followed, it just hardly seems descriptive or adequate for such an elegant, sophisticated methodology of teaching and communication with another species. And unfortunately there are many traditional trainers out there that still believe “clicker training” is simply using a marker and reward in training. Case in point: Just the other day I had a very experienced competition trainer declare to me that “shaping isn’t clicker training”. Little does she know that shaping is one of the corner stones of clicker training! This trainer sometimes uses a clicker as a marker, and that is what she believes to be “clicker training”.
As the song goes, “Accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative”. This is my mantra for training. I try to tell people that “clicker training” is not just a methodology but a philosophy, a mindset, an overall approach and attitude based on prioritizing a cooperative and positive learning experience throughout the entire process. Efforts are marked, rewarded, and appropriately challenged to incrementally improve at a pace that ensures success of the animal. The teacher/trainer is focused on acknowledging only the desired action and rewarding the animal at every opportunity. The animal gains confidence and becomes an active participant in the process by learning to offer desired behaviors for a reward. There is never any discouraging word or action for an error, errors are simply ignored and not rewarded. No fear of making a mistake, no harm in trying, keep going until sooner or later there is a “click” and bingo, you get your reward for getting it right! Confidence and trust is built and a learning partnership is born…
So it does sound relatively simple and it is…to a point. The beauty of it is that simplicity and the fact that mistakes cause no harm. But the art is in the correct application, and that is not always easy. It takes time, patience, consistency and clarity along with education and practice. There are many methods and techniques within the “clicker” process-where you can combine art and science for loads of learning fun! But the true reward is that the learning partnership with another species is nothing short of a magical and miraculous experience. I count myself as one of the many fortunate humans to have had this in my life. Events like the Clicker Expo help educate and raise awareness that truly humane teaching and learning is the most effective across species. Maybe most important of all is that it teaches us that none of this is about an egotistical human display of control or personal accomplishment, but rather a miraculous demonstration of communication, learning and cooperative relationship between species. It never ceases to amaze me!